The Practice of Freedom

Hola mi Gente,
I was sick as a dog last weekend I missed the third lecture of four I was supposed to give this month. Tomorrow, I will do the last lecture. I have really enjoyed engaging the good people of All Souls Church – all of whom are so open-minded and inclusive. I only hope I have met the challenge.

Last chance:

Sunday, February 26th, 10 AM, at All Souls Church at Lexington Ave. and E. 80th St.

Engaged Spirituality:
Moral Development and the Practice of Freedom

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Simply “practicing meditation” or any set of mechanics isn’t enough. I have come to realize that we create our world according to our level of consciousness/ awareness. It’s the same with love. For some people, love’s reason is the satisfaction of the individual. Love is something that you go “out there” to get in order to satisfy a hunger for connection. Similarly, religion and everything else is filtered — distilled — according to one’s level of moral reasoning.

Let’s assume that moral development has three distinct stages. At birth an infant hasn’t been socialized into its culture’s ethics, standards, and conventions; let’s call this the preconventional stage. It’s also known as the egocentric, in that the infant’s awareness is largely consumed with self — self-absorbed. But as the young child begins to learn its culture’s rules and norms, it grows into the conventional stage. This stage is also known as ethnocentric, in that it’s focused on the child’s particular group, tribe, clan, or nation, and therefore tends to exclude those not of its group. But at the next major stage of moral development, the post-conventional stage, the individual’s identity expands to include care and concern for all peoples, regardless of race, color, sexual orientation, or creed, which is why this stage is also known as worldcentric.

Using this consciousness map as a framework to understand reality one can see how religion (or love) will manifest itself differently in a person who’s at the egocentric stage than a person who’s at a worldcentric stage. Both people can be just as devout (or “in love”), but spiritual practice will evolve according to any one individual’s level of moral development.

To illustrate further, imagine love from an egocentric perspective. Love at this stage resembles a yearning — something like an addict’s need for a fix — an ego boost. Same thing with almost anything you look at in life: perception and meaning changes according to the level from which you are engaging the world. Religion from an egocentric perspective resembles the global wave of fundamentalism currently threatening our existence. And I mention fundamentalism in all its manifestations — including our own home-grown Christian fundamentalism.

During this last lecture I will attempt to answer some of the questions in the previous section (namely how personal and collective liberation are interdependent) and discuss if the Dharma (Buddhism) can facilitate the development of moral reasoning. And if so, I would like to lead a discussion on what our national or geopolitical dialog resemble as people moved up the ladder of the stages of moral reasoning.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

The Freak

Hola mi gente,
Things are starting to get busy at work, but this is a good thing. LOL

The Freak and the Process

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When I talk about the work I do, you have to understand that the “I” I am referencing is a lot bigger than just me. I see my work as being a part of a process that’s larger and more powerful than I. In fact, I perceive who I am today to be the product of many people who have helped me along the way. In other words, who I am and what I do is the result of the work of too many people to count. Today, when I say “I” it is with the clear realization that I am connected on so many levels with so many people. Yeah, I’m freaky that way.

In fact, if you’re reading this, you have probably helped make me the human being I am today. No shit.

So! The other day, I was headed to a meeting when a woman stopped me and said, “You probably don’t remember me, but… ” Now, in a past life if a woman, or anyone for the matter, approached me with that line, it usually wasn’t positive. I was about to tell her, “Hey, it’s not my baby,” or “If I owe you money… ” LOL But then I remembered that was the old Eddie.

In any case, she went on:

You changed my life. I remember that before I met you, the way I thought about incarcerated people was very narrow-minded, but working with you, and seeing the passion and intelligence you brought to the work and how people responded to you, changed the way I saw people. You changed the way I looked at the world in a very fundamental way and that’s why I’m here today. The funny thing is that when you first met me, you predicted you would change my life. Well, I never got the chance to tell you, but you did. You changed my life and I want to thank you.

Wow, she almost made me cry!

But here’s the thing: it wasn’t me, but the “process” that changed her. In fact, I’m constantly being changed by the process myself. What I try to do — on a daily basis — is to be a conduit for the process of change. Most of the time, that’s about me getting out of the way of the process and being able to channel something much more powerful than me.

So, I turned to her and told her:

“Thank you so much for saying this, it means a lot to me. But here’s the thing: now you have to become an agent for change and be part of that process.”

And the look in her eyes told me she understood everything I was saying. She was actually crying. My hairs are standing up as I write this. No, I’m no Jesus freak, but I know that all of us working together can bring about big change. We can make tremendous changes. This is why I get pissed off when I see people giving away their power to neoliberals. We are the change, not Her or Him. I know this because I have experienced it every day for the last 25 years.

This I know is true: You are more powerful than you give yourself credit for and together? Man, that story has yet to be told.

Who loves you?

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it, please consider helping me out by sharing it, liking me on Facebook, following me on Twitter, or even throwing me some money on GoFundMe HERE or via PayPal HERE so I can keep calling it like I see it.

Skillful Living

Hola mi Gente,
When I facilitated workshops, I was always looking out for experiential exercises. This, in turn, kept me in a state of constant exploration and learning. So, in a very real sense, my workshop participants were actually my greatest teachers.

Alive

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Change your words into truth and then change that truth into love…
— Steveland Wonder, As

 

Ever consciously reflected on the fact that you are alive — right now? I mean really get into that? Try this, soften your belly and relax your jaw. Feel — feel don’t think — feel your heart beating deep inside your body, and feel the rhythm of your heart as it radiates outward, pulsing in your hands, feet, and neck. Feeling your heart in this way, relax and open as in an offering to the world.

While you are at it, take a moment and try to feel how you live your life. How do you spend your life’s moments? What did you or will do today or yesterday? What are your plans for tomorrow? Who do you love and do you love deeply?

The undeniable truth is that no matter what — no matter how much money you have made, how many Coach Bags you own — one day you will become numb and your heart will stop, you will stop breathing, and all this will disappear. In some moment just like this one, your life will end.

Period.

Are you ready for death? Are you ready for the death of your children and your loved ones?

Perhaps one day you will be friends and family celebrating, a gentle breeze, the sun caressing your face. Suddenly your heart stops. A final plea… and then fade to black…

Are you ready? I mean, are you truly ready? Have you loved and lived fully and given of your deepest gifts?

A life well lived is a life faced with an open heart in every moment. You can be wide open, holding nothing back and you will receive in return without pushing away. This is true whether you are living in a penthouse or the Big House (prison). The opening of your heart does not come from an analysis of some kind, it is not dependent on external factors, it does not come from “loving” in the normal sense that we conceptualize love. The opening of your heart comes from a deeply felt sense. You are openness, inseparable from this entire moment. The one truth is that everything comes and goes. Everything must change.

Your child’s smile: precious but temporary and already dissolving.

Your lover’s tender embrace: already disentangling.

Life often resembles the ocean in that, try as we may, we are essentially helpless to stop the waves — they come and go, no matter how much we rail against them. Yet, while it is true that we cannot stop the waves, we can still learn how to surf. Every moment is a miracle and already disappearing. Every experience is at the same time full and empty — both.

A life lived merely for the sake of experience is a cheated life full of tension, insecurity, loneliness, and a deep sense of emptiness. Your Coach bag cannot fulfill you because, at some point in time, it will fade. It will break, or get lost, stolen, or worse: it will fall out of fashion. Your experience cannot fulfill you because as soon as it comes, it is already gone. Like the addict’s obsession/ compulsion for a fix, it’s an illusion, just out of reach.

If we stop the grasping, life becomes free and full of light. Surrendering is opening. That’s how you open — you surrender, opening full and bright, breathing deeply. Offering your heart of hearts, you are reborn in this moment. Believe me, when the end comes the only questions that will matter is whether you loved deeply and lived fully. But do not wait, death gives us the permission to live freely and love openly this very moment.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it, please consider helping me out by sharing it, liking me on Facebook, following me on Twitter, or even throwing me some money on GoFundMe HERE or via PayPal HERE so I can keep calling it like I see it.

Thoughts Without a Thinker

Hola mi gente,
So, I’m getting my groove back, using my creativity. Things are looking up. Next step: get my own place!

Entering the Stream

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Stream of Consciousness, Chenile stems, styrofoam, by Julia Buntaine. This piece visually embodies the idea of how a stream of thought in the mind takes form and flows.

Thinking to get at once all the gold the goose could give, he killed it and opened it only to find — nothing.
— Aesop (620–560 BC) The Goose with the Golden Eggs

 

I once met a lovely woman, highly intelligent, beautiful writer. In her early 40s, she was at her creative and physical peak. I used to joke that she looked as if she lived on a Stairmaster. In short, here was a woman I felt I could enjoy knowing better, maybe even –who knows — explore the “C” word with her. She had one major drawback, however…

She thought too much.

She was ruled by her thoughts and she wasn’t satisfied with torturing herself with her thinking, she insisted I join in also. I’ll give you an example, we would plan a meet-up (she lived in Boston and I live in NYC) and initially we would talk excitedly about what we would do together, but as the date would draw nearer, thoughts stemming from her insecurities would predominate our conversations. At first I was more than happy to help her dispel some of these thoughts. I mean, she would have one thought (“Eddie doesn’t like me, so he won’t come”) and then another thought connected to that thought would appear (“Eddie is just coming because he wants sex”), which would be connected to another thought (“I’m such a loser”). This would go on until her whole thought process and beliefs around our meet-up would be so totally screwed up, so totally disassociated from reality, that I would have a hard time addressing all of it.

Eventually, I would have to tell her that I didn’t need to hear all her thought processes and she was so offended that she broke off meeting with me. She was so hurt because, according to her, her thoughts were her and I shouldn’t have been so insensitive to her thoughts (or something along those lines). I don’t “do” therapy in my personal life, though friends constantly ask me questions that essentially are invites to “analyze” them. I don’t even adhere to that type of theoretical orientation. LOL

You might judge my friend’s thinking, but I see people do that kind of thing all the time. I mean, we all do it to a degree. We like to call it “analyzing,” but it resembles mental masturbation. We create scenarios out of a tangled web of thought constellations and ingrained belief systems we take as ultimate truth. I will add that my friend’s thinking brought her a lot of suffering in the form of clinical depression.

We live in a society in which we’re encouraged to live from the “neck up” at the expense of our bodies and the rest of reality — we live disembodied lives. I see it all the time in my work. Ask someone how he or she feels and they will quickly proceed to tell you how they’re thinking about their feeling.

I often tell my women friends that they shouldn’t think around me because it makes my dick hard. I’m kidding! It doesn’t work, telling someone not to think, makes them think even more intensely.

Let me be clear: thinking is not bad in itself. In fact, thinking is an essential tool for our well-being and survival. Indeed, our distinguishing feature as a species is the ability to create complex symbols, agree on their meaning, and use them to encode our knowledge. The ability to think allows us to compute, reason, and create, and, most importantly, to share our understanding with each other in the form of speech or writing. We can even record our thinking (on blogs, no less) for others!

The issue here is that as a species we have grown to value thinking to the exclusion of other aspects of our being. We have become more identified with our thoughts and the more we become lost in our personal soap operas, the more disconnected we have become from what we have in common with other human beings and our ecology. We have surrendered our sense of self to our thinking mind, becoming “lost in thought.”

I should know, because I too was addicted to the non-stop ruminations of my thought-stream. After years of meditation practice, the most significant change in my life has been my relationship to my mind. We’re still together, my monkey and I, but we’re no longer in a codependent relationship. Slowly, but surely I am gaining my liberation from the tyranny of thinking.

The change was precipitated by the acknowledgment that my mind had a thinking problem. I was a heavy thinker, often engaging in about 70,000 to 150,000 thoughts a day! I got up in the morning and — bam! — I was thinking 2-3 thoughts per minute, continuing through the day until night when I thought myself to sleep.

I tried everything from analysis (which made me more attached to my thinking) to screaming and flailing about, which only temporarily diminished the flow of thinking. Eventually, I would turn to drugs in an attempt to “blow my mind” by short-circuiting the neural wiring and I have to say — one time I even forgot who I was (literally).

Later, I would practice a form of meditation in which the goal was not to stop thinking, but rather expose the mind to itself. Before my meditation practice I was completely absorbed on the content of thoughts, how to manipulate them and extract meaning from them. That is what we’re taught and graded on in school and it is what our culture values.

But no one had taught me how to look at my thoughts. Ordinarily, we go through life with what psychologists call a pre-conscious stream of thoughts coursing through our minds. Barely noticeable, this thought stream exerts an enormous amount of influence in our lives. We do this mindlessly without awareness. In fact, modern science shows that our thoughts aren’t the dominant player in our lives. Brain research finds that most of our interpretations of the world as well as our decision-making process takes place on what evolutionary psychologists call the “sub-personal” level, without a rational thinking self directing the process.

When I first sat down to meditate, I was almost overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the thought stream. Eventually, I learned the simple task of watching the stream without making judgments, or running around to analyze them. A resentment thought pops up, I acknowledge it gently and then let it go. Sure enough, some time will pass and another thought will present itself and I do the same thing — I see it, acknowledge it and let it go. Eventually, this has a stabilizing effect — you’re not stuck on the thoughts that seem to come from nowhere. You are not stuck on the content of your thoughts but engaged in the process of the thought-stream.

Eventually, with lots of practice, I was able to observe the “gap” between the thoughts. This is pure consciousness, pure awareness — the most powerful healing force I’ve ever encountered… but that’s for another blog for another time.

It may not sound like a lot, but it’s a huge thing for me to say that the main difference between my experiences today and those of 20-odd years ago is that I catch myself quicker these days. Essentially, today I’m less prone to be carried away by every thought that comes along — I don’t get caught up in my delusional personal soap opera as often as I used to. This is especially true in the area of resentments and personal relationships. The thought-stream is not ruling my responses or filtering my reality as much as it once did.

Today a thought can arise and I can say, “thanks for sharing, but I’m not engaging that today, I’m too busy doing something more important.”

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it, please consider helping me out by sharing it, liking me on Facebook, following me on Twitter, or even throwing me some money on GoFundMe HERE or via PayPal HERE so I can keep calling it like I see it.

Direct Experience

Hola mi gente,
Well, today was my first day of work. I believe I have come across a project I can sink my teeth into and a good team.

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Experience is not what happens, but what we do with what happens.
— Aldous Huxley

 

Someone asked me recently whether books or direct experiences were the best teachers and it reminded me of the following story:

There was once a young scholar who came from a privileged family who spent most of time reading and studying all the great teachings. One day, while traveling, he came upon a wide river and eventually found a boatman to take him across. During the crossing, partly to pass the time and partly to impress the boatman, the young scholar described his life of studies. As he spoke, the boatman listened attentively. Then, after some time, he says to the young scholar, “You have learned much, sir — but have you learned how to swim?”

“Why no,” he replied. “I have not.”

“Then I am afraid your knowledge is of little use,” said the boatman, “for this boat is sinking.”

LOL!

This is, of course, a funny over simplification, but it is true that direct experience remains the powerful teacher. However, a book can provide a map of the territory that can prepare us and enables us to learn more from our experiences. And while a book can point the way, we still must make the journey. In other words, the map isn’t the territory. So, in my estimation, it is a false choice. We don’t really have to choose between books and direct experience. Instead, the wisest course is to choose both.

It may be that it will take years of experience in order to integrate fully what we learn from books. Our perspectives change over time as life teaches and humbles us. It is the nature of life that, no matter how much we may have learned from books, we sometimes have to experience humiliation before we find wisdom. If we are receptive and open-minded, everything we encounter is a potential lesson. We succeed by failing, learn from our mistakes, and we rise up to our potential through a long and winding staircase.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it, please consider helping me out by sharing it, liking me on Facebook, following me on Twitter, or even throwing me some money on GoFundMe HERE or via PayPal HERE so I can keep calling it like I see it.

Sunday Sermon [Simplicity]

Hola mi gente,
Yeah, it’s winter here in the land of the snow, but I still prefer to live here than in whatever Armpit, USA you live. LOL

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For every complex problem, there is a simple solution that doesn’t work.
— H. L. Mencken

 

I was recently reminded of the story of the man who kept constantly snapping his fingers. When someone asked him why he did this, he answered, “Well, to keep the snakes away, of course.” When it was pointed out to him that there weren’t any snakes in their city, the man said, “You see how well it works?”

You might laugh, but this kind of fallacious thinking happens all the time. This is the kind of logic that often guides the search for simple solutions — until we finally roll up our sleeves and do the actual work. You find this frame of mind to be true of those who champion positive thinking or prosperity spirituality. The truth remains that using techniques to change our beliefs, fix our feelings, banish self-doubt, quiet the mind, think only positive thoughts, or attract whatever or whomever we desire, represents simple solutions that don’t work. Visualizing money will not magically attract it unless I act as much as I focus. I also have a problem with spirituality that is grounded on getting and hoarding material things. As far as I’m concerned that’s the opposite of the spiritual life.

Whenever I ask a group of people how many have read books on positive thinking, many hands go up. When I ask them to keep their hands up if they have had only positive thoughts in the last week, all the hands disappear. How many of us who visualize positive outcomes, listen to subliminal tapes, or affirm out the ass, actually realize the desired results?

::blank stare::

Besides, as I have been writing about for years now, there’s a tremendous amount of potential in “negativity” or negative thoughts. Negative thoughts can act as motivating factors in success and there’s a wealth of knowledge and experiential lessons to be gleaned from them and our failures. Believe me, I just went through a year and a half of some of the most challenging circumstances, and using negative “energy” was a huge factor in keeping my sanity.

The truth is that there is no way to keep our emotions or thoughts positive because we have no direct control over arising feelings or thoughts. In actuality, much of our suffering is rooted in the false belief of control. In any case, in the real world, people who transcend their situations are not fixated on changing their feelings, manipulating thoughts. They are focused on doing what needs to be done, and doing it regardless of whatever feelings may arise. Of course, this does not mean repressing or denying our feelings or thoughts. In fact, I value my thoughts and emotions as I would a beloved child: I value, honor, listen to, and learn from him, but I don’t let them take over the house.

Simplicity has power, no doubt, and grounding our lives on constructive, positive behavior is the simplest and most powerful approach I have known. However, simple doesn’t mean easy. On the contrary, the techniques proposed by many motivational speakers appear easy on paper, but are as complex and fascinating as they are unworkable. And when we try these techniques and fail to get our desired outcomes, we assume we didn’t do them right or applied ourselves enough and enter the madness of continuing to do the same actions and expecting different results.

Yes, simplicity has power. But what can be simpler than just doing it?

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it, please consider helping me out by sharing it, liking me on Facebook, following me on Twitter, or even throwing me some money on GoFundMe HERE or via PayPal HERE so I can keep calling it like I see it.

Little Women

Hola Everybody,
Okay, I know I’m going to be stigmatized for saying this but am I the only one who thinks that the “women’s” gymnastics competition kid of a sick societal obsession?

::blank stare::

Yes, it is a fetish of sorts, but in more ways than you would think…

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Nadia Comanechi

If the young heroine’s quest is one of development, then what does the maniacal obsession for perfection do to such a quest? If, for the young girl, the quest is from alienation to integration within a community where she can develop more fully, then what does our compulsion/ obsession with perfection do to that quest?

It strangles it.

I’m not here to rail against gymnastics, nor any other sport. However, I have to wonder what an unhealthy preoccupation with exercise, weight, and poor body image do to a young girl’s psyche. I would never allow my daughter (if I had one) be put through the torture of gymnastics or ballet training no matter how gifted she was. It’s inhumane to demand perfection. It’s also tragic that we allow adults to break little girls in a mad quest for perfection.

And to some degree, it’s different for female athletes than it is for the males. While the males also suffer the same injuries and make the same sacrifices (sacrificing puberty for their sport, for example), for the females there is the added burden of body weight. Female gymnasts (as well as ballet dancers) are instructed (conditioned) to be obsessed by weight. Mix a torturous training regimen (often the bulk of waking hours) with abnormal dieting and you have a clear-cut path to eating disorders and arrested physical and psychological development.

I usually consider myself an open-minded person, willing to try to see all sides of a story, but as I watch the following montage, I have to shake my head and wonder what sane parent would willingly allow his or her daughter be put through all this.

For what? For whom?

For every girl that manages to do a one-legged landing and become an idol to millions of fans, there are the countless broken bodies and psyches of girls so young it’s hard for me to wrap my mind around it.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it, please consider helping me out by sharing it, liking me on Facebook, following me on Twitter, or even throwing me some money on GoFundMe HERE or via PayPal HERE so I can keep calling it like I see it.